In The Godfather, there is an important scene in an Italian Restaurant with dialogue between Michael Corleone and Virgil Sollozzo. There is dialogue spoken in Sicilian (according to the script) that does not have English subtitles.

SOLLOZZO now begins in rapid Sicilian. MICHAEL listening carefully and nodding every so often. Then MICHAEL answers in Sicilian, and SOLLOZZO goes on. The WAITER occasionally brings food; and they hesitate while he is there; then go on. Then MICHAEL, having difficulty expressing himself in Italian, accidentally lapses into English.

The Godfather is an American film and the dialogue is in English with the exception of this dialogue between Sollozzo and Michael. (Perhaps there is some non-English dialogue while Michael courts Apollonia, but I cannot remember)

This answer provides the English translation for the conversation between Sollozzo and Michael.

My question is, Why wasn't there English subtitles provided for this scene? The film is an American film with English dialogue. This scene appeared to be an important plot to the film. Is there an explanation from filmmakers on why there were no English subtitles provided for this particular scene?

  • I think, even though this was apparently not the intention of Coppola, that an English speaker with no Italian or Sicilian, is able to, from not just context but also from listening and hearing cognates, pick up some of what was being said makes the scene much more interesting than if it was all spelled out. I think anyone listening carefully picks up the words for "father", "old-fashioned" ("antique'" however it is spelled in Italian) and "think" ("pensa" as in "pensive") and realizes that Sollozzo is saying that Vito is old-fashioned in his thinking. That is sort of fun for the listener.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


A couple of reasons...

Firstly, Coppola states somewhere in the DVD commentary that the actors spoke too quickly for the subtitles to be read properly and that was a distraction for the audience, so he let the scene play out visually instead.

Walter Murch (Film & Sound Editor on The Godfather) explained why Coppola made this choice...

“It is very bold, even today, to have an extended scene between two main characters in an English-language film speaking another language with no translation. As a result you’re paying much more attention to how things are said and the body language being used, and you’re perceiving things in a very different way. You’re listening to the sound of the language, not the meaning.

Secondly, although the scene is important, what Sollozzo is saying actually isn't.

The whole restaurant scene has very little to do the the negotiations but rather the killing of Sollozzo and McCluskey. This is the pivotal point where Michael makes his bones and sets off on the path of becoming the Godfather.

It doesn't really matter what Sollozo says, Michael is bound and determined to kill him (and McCluskey)...it all plays out in Pacino's expression and eyes...so, ultimately, the dialogue isn't relevant.

The audience also already knows what this meeting is about—Michael and Sollozzo are trying to reach a truce. That’s not what matters. What’s important is Michael’s emotional and psychological state. Because the dialogue is in a foreign language and therefore “unimportant,” we can focus our full attention on Pacino’s amazing performance. Pacino has to pull off a very difficult feat here—he must convey to the audience his nervousness and doubt while simultaneously conveying to the characters in the scene that nothing is out of the ordinary. The way that Michael glances down, the way his shoulders slightly sag, the frustration in his eyes when his Italian fails him—Pacino creates a subtly physical performance that brilliantly captures the character’s state without giving anything away to the other characters.


  • I don't understand Italian, but it seems pretty clear to me that Michael's Italian is not too good, and he has trouble saying what he means and eventually lapses into English. I think that's part of the meaning of the scene, and it does not depend on the audience's understanding the Italian.
    – Chaim
    Commented Apr 10 at 0:46

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